Costs of the Vaughn G Lawsuit

Kalman R. Hettleman is an independent Baltimore education consultant. He was Secretary of Human Resources during the Hughes administration, and is a former member of the Baltimore City School Board. The following discussion of the costs of the Vaughn G. lawsuit is excerpted by permission from a 55-page report, “Still Getting It Wrong: The Continuing Failure of Special Education in the Baltimore City Public Schools” published by The Abell Foundation in February 2002 and available in full at

Measuring the Waste in Dollars

The amount of money spent and misspent on the compliance maze is enormous. A rough, conservative estimate of the excessive costs is $14 million annually. Over the past five years, the cost has undoubtedly been well over $50 million. Moreover, despite the high degree of compliance and diminishing returns, compliance expenditures are not falling***

Special Education Central Office

The time spent by staff within the Special Education Office whose duties are essentially compliance-driven has been estimated on the low side.

An estimate of $3.6 million was derived as follows:

Office of Special Education Monitoring and Compliance – $1.0 million (100% of time)
Office of the Special Education Officer – $ .1 million(50% of time)
Compensatory Awards – $1.7 million (It is not clear exactly how BCPSS arrived at this figure. Presumably it includes the cost of the 16 positions earmarked for Compensatory Awards(Central Positions List) and the projected cost of the actual awards. Last fiscal year, the value of the awards exceeded $1.3 million.).
Policies and Procedures – $ .5 million (an estimated 11 positions, denoted “Policies and Procedures” or “Technical Support for Compliance”…@$50,000 per position @ 100 percent of time. All position costs used in this analysis are low.)
Inclusion Services – $ .1 million(10 positions @ $50,000 per position @ 25 percent of time
Support for Child Study Teams – $ .2 million (16 positions @$50,000 per position @25 percent of time. These positions have also been substantially engaged in the Child Study Team process, i.e.the interdisciplinary school-based team that evaluates referrals and develops Individual Education Plans).

Total $3.6 million

Special Education- School-based

[T]he low range of estimates has been used. Outside evidence confirms that these estimates are very conservative. The national Council for Exceptional Children reported last year “A majority of special educators estimate that they spend a day or more a week on paperwork and 83 percent report spending from a half to one and a half days per week in IEP-related meetings…The estimate of $17 million was derived as follows:

Special Education teachers – $6.8 million(10 percent of their time)
Speech and language pathologists – $ 1.0 million(15 percent of their time)
Psychologists – $1.4 million(25 percent of their time)(In a recent survey,BCPSS psychologists reported overwhelmingly that they spend more time with compliance duties in the Child Study Team process than ‘as a School Psychologist.’)
Social Workers – $1.8 million (25 percent of their time)(A group of BCPSS social workers estimated that they spent 60% of their time in meetings and filling out forms)
ARD Managers – $6.0 million(75 percent of their time)(These positions spend the overwhelming majority of their time managing the Child Study Team processes)

Total $17.0 million

Vaughn G.Legal Costs

An estimate of $725,000 was derived as follows

Direct legal expenses…were about $1 million last school year. Over the last five years, the Vaughn G expenses appear to have been well over $5 million. It can be conservatively assumed, based on the overwhelming compliance focus of the litigation, that 75 percent of these expenditures were spent on the compliance maze. As best determined, BCPSS has never analyzed legal expenditures, and getting a complete picture of them is difficult. The most accessible records obtained under the Maryland Public Information Act do not always document the exact time periods or services rendered for legal bills. The trend in legal expenses is down slightly but will probably rise again when disengagement is litigated.
Court Special Master – $480,000
Maryland Disability Law Center(counsel for plaintiffs) – $250,000(These bills have been particularly difficult to decipher. They include some work on individual cases in addition to Vaughn G. Fees paid in 1999-2000 were $540,000))
Outside Counsel for BCPSS – $175,000(Fees paid in 1999-2000 were $202,000).
BCPSS Counsel’s Office – $50,000(This is a rough estimate of the time spent by salaried attorneys. No time records are kept))
Plaintiffs’ Representative – $12,000(Approximately one-half of the time))
Total Legal Costs – $967,000(Not counted are the legal costs of the Office of Attorney General, counsel to the Maryland State Department of Education, one of the parties in Vaughn G.)
Legal costs of compliance@75 percent of legal costs – $725,000(rounded)

Indirect (General Education)

An estimate of indirect compliance costs of approximately $7 million was derived as follows…The range of estimates of [principals and assistant principals] time was 10 to 25 percent…of General Education teachers..1 to 10 percent…a conservative estimate of the indirect costs is 2 percent…of $362 million, or $7.2 million.

Summary of compliance costs

Special Education(Central) $3.60 million
Special Education School-based $17.00 million
Vaughn G Legal Costs $ .75 million
Indirect (General Education) $7.20 million

Total $28.00 million (rounded).

[T]he time and money spent on the compliance maze that is excessive is conservatively estimated here at 50 percent [of $28 million]…The price paid by students and teachers for the compliance maze is far greater than just the waste of money. It diverts focus from instruction, saps morale, harms recruitment and retention of Special Education teachers and related service providers, and impedes integration of General Education and Special Education…Moreover, the plaintiffs and the Court seem to regard compliance as a moving target. For example, several strict and arbitrary outcomes (such as those relating to student discipline) were incorporated in the disengagement decree…the amendments and federal regulations do not impose the kind of numerical standards that are in the decree…The unprecedented sweep of the disengagement decree and the draconian compliance maze stem in part from the Court’s ill-disguised intent to punish BCPSS for past acts of incompetence and disobedience of court orders. BCPSS negotiates ‘consent’ agreements knowing the Court’s disposition to come down hard on it…plaintiffs seem likely to want the legal struggle [to] continue, to preserve what they see as the benefits of continuing Court supervision and their own influence over the course of Special Education…[I]t is simply time for the Court to trust the New Board, CEO and the City-State partnership and to put Special Education on the same footing as General Education. The New Board has amply demonstrated its management strengths. But as matters now stand, under Vaughn G, the Board neither has clear authority over, nor can it be held accountable for, Special Education.”

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